I finally got to meet Pete Townshend in person, backstage at The Who concert, in Brighton last weekend.
During lockdown, June 2020, Pete had graciously agreed to speak to me about my idea to write a rock opera about London’s finance industry. He also expressed a keen interest in what MESS was doing as a heritage synthesizer organisation, as he had a large collection himself and was wondering how to best preserve it for posterity and public access.
We ended up speaking for one and half hours, and that was the inspiration and support I needed right then to continue with my rock opera writing and recording, during those darkest of lockdown days.
Then I couldn’t believe my luck that I was in Brighton (UK) last weekend when The Who were performing one of their last gigs on their UK tour. I’d never seen them live before, but then seeing/ hearing these almost 80 year old cultural icons (Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, supported by Zak Starkey on drums, Ringo’s son) belt out highlights of their back catalogue generated so many feelings.
Some of the songs predated my birth, but I, like the whole audience, knew them. Songs like ‘Substitute’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Teenage Wasteland’, ‘Baba O’Riley’, have been on the radio, in the air, in my brain, seeped into the everyday lives and feelings of millions of people around the world for decades. It is hard to describe that experience of hearing your life journey in sounds that were around when you were a kid, and they now feel ancient but as urgent as ever.
They feel part of me, literally. And it’s not about being a ‘Who fan’ or other teenage-esque rivalry about tastes in music and tribes/personal styles associated with one band or another. It’s about those ineffable feelings of desire/ validation/ reaching for something higher/the past/love, the classic tune, the perfect phrase with musical hook, the rock concert. At their best, these can generate those moments of being so happy to be alive.
For the few minutes I got to meet Pete and chat (although I think it was mostly me gushing at him!), Pete was gracious and warm. He very kindly repeated his high praise for what I had achieved with Canary Wharf: the Rock Opera.
And I noticed he made sure to make eye contact with, and speak to, everyone who had been lucky enough to get a backstage pass to meet him, just before he went on stage. I overheard him gently tell (for the thousandth time I’m sure) the story of Pinball Wizard to an intellectually disabled chap, and then overheard another young man shake his hand and say “Pete, you have saved me so many times”.